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From guests to winner, no surprises for ‘Idol’

Star-power wattage was dim at finale, but winner deserved her crown. By Craig Berman
/ Source: contributor

She's just 17, but to the "American Idol" voters, the way Jordin Sparks sings is way beyond compare. For that reason, the teen queen was crowned as the sixth "Idol" champion on Wednesday.

Jordin's triumph didn't surprise anyone. She was clearly better than Blake Lewis in the finale, with a big assist going to songwriters Jeff Peabody and Scott Krippayne.

The duo wrote "This is My Now," which won a contest to become the first single for the season-six winner. Each finalist closed with their version of it last night. Jordin's sounded something like a hit record while Blake's, well, did not.

But one song doesn't make a season, and Jordin isn't the champion just because the winning song happens to be a ballad instead of a more rocking tune. She won because she's both really good and really young, a combination of talent and potential that proved irresistible to viewers.

Wednesday's finale began with the two finalists singing "I Saw Her Standing There" by the Beatles, which talks about how a teenage girl wins hearts. That was Jordin's season in a nutshell. Once viewers started voting for her, they never let up with the phone calls and text messages.

Jordin grew more confident each weekShe wasn't an obvious favorite when the season began, and it wouldn't have been a shock had she joined the numerous teenage standouts who didn't even make it out of Hollywood. Instead, she made her way into the semifinals, cruised into the final 12, outlasted talented rivals like Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones, and overcame an anti-teenage bias that saw just three finalists under the age of 20. She did it all by showing strength in both vocals and personality.

While in the past, numerous teenagers have tied themselves in knots trying to please the judges, Jordin went onstage each week with increasing confidence, and won a wider audience as time went on.

Despite the lack of drama that even going over the show's two-hour limit couldn't cure, Jordin appeared overwhelmed when she was declared the winner.

As runner-up Blake strode off into the dark recesses of the stage, the winner was in tears, and for the second night in a row broke down at the end of what's likely to be her first hit single. Hopefully, by the time the "Idol" tour starts, she'll be able to make it to the end of the song without the tears flowing.

Jordin got a sneak preview of what's in store for her when four of the previous winners performed — the fifth, Fantasia Barrino, was too busy starring on Broadway to make it. Some have made it big (Carrie, Kelly) and some haven't (Ruben, Taylor), but winning the hearts of millions of "Idol" voters is a pretty good sign that Sparks has a future in the music business.

Lack of buzz
Despite the red carpet pre-show and the crowd of celebrities in the audience, the show didn't seem to have the aura of previous finales.

Tuesday night's episode generated more votes than any previous show, but the tally of 74 million clearly doesn't represent a greater audience than in the past, since voters can call in more than once, and the show's ratings have been down this year.

That lack of buzz extended to the musical acts. Curiously, for a show that managed to land more notable guest mentors than in previous seasons, the list of performers for the finale lacked the star power of those who performed last season.

Rumors that lip-synch queen Britney Spears would appear proved untrue. Getting Green Day was a coup, and the band's cover of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" may well be the best performance ever on the show. Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight are musical legends, and any time they can show up, the show is the better for it.

But beyond that, the star-power wattage in the Season 6 finale wasn't close to the field that graced last season's finale.

Last season's stars got to sing duets with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Live, and Toni Braxton (and also Meat Loaf). This season? The duets were with Ruben Studdard, Doug E. Fresh, BeBe and CeCe Winans, and Aerosmith's Joe Perry. Gwen Stefani literally mailed in her performance, with a taped single from her tour stop, while Bette Midler showed only that she's seen better days when she sang "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Apart from Green Day, the biggest get for the "Idol" bookers were a couple of the show's previous champions, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.

Oscar-winner and show alum Jennifer Hudson was in the audience and got a shout-out from Clive Davis, proving along with Clarkson that the show's massive appeal is a great reason for forgetting perceived slights and burying the hatchet.

Clarkson and Underwood illustrate what the show is all about. Both used "Idol" as launching pads to powerful careers, the path Jordin hopes to follow. With a bright musical future ahead of her, the season six winner has the chance to become a star as well.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.